Saturday, July 8, 2017

A Southern African Adventure...Cape Town, South Africa


The Cape Town Jazz Festival

I left Harare full and satisfied. It was like tasting just enough of a sweet and delicious desert, knowing you will return to have more soon. That is how I feel about Harare, Zimbabwe. It is an Afrocentric place. Black art thrives there. I will be there again soon. I boarded a plane to get to Cape Town a little after 12 noon. Traveling between countries is challenging. I had to prepare for a new currency and new cell phone service in order to function and get around. Fortunately I had a long layover in Johannesburg to purchase South African Rands and a new cell phone chip. (all Southern African travel by air always involves making a connecting flight in Johannesburg.) And it was a cumbersome connection, made so by my own backpack weighted down with Shona sculptures. I was hungry, tired and ready for a nice meal (and a nap) on the airplane to Cape Town. I was shocked to discover that passengers had to buy meals on the plane. South Africa is capitalist to the core – no complementary anything. Not even beverages. I also felt unsettled because this was my first trip to a South African city. I had only passed through the Jo-burg airport. I could only think of the very real and present legacy of the Boers and their violence and racism against my South African brothers and sisters. I had also heard of horrible violence against Black South African women perpetrated by their men, including violent gang rapes in taxis and Kombi buses. I was cautioned against taking a regular taxi and was encouraged to uber. At the same time, I was also excited about the Cape Town Jazz Festival. An African jazz festival. Yes! 

The Boers (late 1800s) - a word that means 'farmer'  in Dutch
The plane landed, and with minor difficulty I managed to find the place where Uber taxis did pick – ups (some would say this hard to reach location was ‘up in the cut.’) Right away I could sense the racial difference. I had been in Botswana, a 97 percent Black/indigenous African country for two and a half months. Now all of the sudden there were white folks all around. I could feel the racism too. It was similar to the spirit of racism that I sensed as soon as I entered the Savannah/Hilton Head Airport in South Carolina the summer of 2015. There, it was thick, palpable and just after the hate killings of the Black bible study attendees in Charleston. I had been in Savannah for less than five minutes and saw a large, heavily –jowled Caucasian man, bearing beefy tattooed arms, driving a large, rusty brown pick- up truck, blasting loud country music and waving a gargantuan confederate flag from the truck’s rear. I am not exaggerating. Same in Cape Town. I was in what the first president of Botswana called ‘racialist’ South Africa for not more than thirty minutes before I heard two white South African youths make a snide racial comment as I was leaving the airport. If Black Americans have cousin cultures all over the Continent and Diaspora then so do toxic, racist quarters of US southern culture - the 'Afrikaners' of South Africa. I decided to ignore this and not let that foolishness rob me of my enjoyment of being in yet another African city. 

View from the Apartment
I managed to make my way to my Airbnb in the heart of downtown. The apartment was fabulous and in a perfect location, located in the upper floors of a hotel. It was within walking distance of the Convention Center where the jazz festival would start the next day. I happily unloaded my heavy bags onto a luggage cart and thanked the brother who manned it for his help. I had been traveling since Monday. My clothes were dirty and I just needed some privacy. In a world-wind travel adventure it is best to plan long stays amidst short in-and-outs. Cape Town was my long stay. A Thursday to a Monday. The apartment was a luxury apartment. It had a kitchen with granite counter tops, a living room, a small office area, a bedroom, a bathroom with a deep and long soaking tub and a washing machine! The owner had everything in there from laundry soap and high speed internet to toothpaste and extra body wash. Everything a traveler would need. It also had a beautiful view of one of the huge mountains that marks backdrop of the cityscape that was donned with thousands of twinkly – lights. I took a nice long hot bath with my ylang - ylang essential oil and fell into the plush bedding for a long, luxurious sleep.

Friday was a full day. Cape Town is a very beautiful coastal city with soaring sky scrapers and soaring mountains. It is very clean with lots of interesting boutiques and shops. I had signed up for two of the jazz festivals workshops and would attend the concerts that night. Just outside of my apartment were long blocks of craft stalls that I looked forward to exploring. I felt right at home in that very industrialized city. It was very similar to the United States in every way, except, South Africa is a majority Black Country. I went to a gourmet grocery store to stock up on meals and dressed for the festival activities. It was time to pull out my cute clothes and shoes. After all, I am a singer (smile). And all singers dress with their own unique flair. Earrings, hairstyles, jewelry, dresses, perfumes and a touch of make - up. I enjoy being a woman. Anyway, my first stop was a ‘master class’ with Kamasi Washington. He is a Black America jazz saxophonist who I had seen in a few interesting photos, but whose music I had never heard. I listened to a few of songs and wrote down a few questions before I left. The brother is authentic and continuing our music tradition. The brother sounds much like John Coltrane. He is from LA, in his thirties and his work is very creative. South Africans seem to love American music and especially Black American music. What can I say? We got the real thing. I’m just saying. Kamasi is a jazz celebrity. And if that is true in the US, then it is especially true in South Africa. People literally ran into the room toward the front seats as soon as they opened the doors. To be honest, I think his story is fascinating. His father is a jazz musician as well. His father trained him in music. He also grounded him in jazz as a Black tradition that links Black musicians living in urban centers all over the country. The LA tradition is strong.
NY Times Photo. Left to Right: Kamasi's father,  Rickey Washington, Mentor and Music Teacher Reggie Andrews, Kamasi Washington and poet Kamau Daaood,  at World Stage Performing Arts Gallery, which was founded by jazz drummer Billy Higgin in South Central LA
This is the city where both Charles Mingus and Eric Dolphy are from. So is jazz drummer Billy Higgins and pianist Horace Tapscott, leader of the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra. Yes, they collaborated with others and recorded in New York, but they were from LA. For my fellow jazz heads, remember, New York did have its own homegrown jazz folks, like Sonny Rollins (Harlem) and Randy Weston and Max Roach (who are both from Brooklyn.) But it was also the migratory destination for many jazz musicians from around the country who brought their own unique sound and concept to The Music. Eric Dolphy, Mingus and those came from LA. It is the jazz musicians of that city that nurtured Kamasi. He still lives there. I always wondered why the only jazz sons from the earlier generations to continue in the music are Ravi Coltrane. If you can think of others, please let me know. But then, John Coltrane had a beautiful Black wife, Alice Coltrane, who was an accomplished jazz musician in her own right. And they had a son - Ravi. Why didn’t Bird have a son to continue his legacy…why didn’t Dizzy? They were too busy having children with woman not in our culture or abandoning the African – American women they did have children with.The music comes from our culture. Again, I’m not trying to sound bitter (because I’m not) but it’s true. That is all I will say about that one. So anyway, to see a black son carrying on his father’s jazz legacy was very exciting. I enjoyed what he had to say. He also has an undergraduate degree in ethnomusicology. I asked him about that, the influence of Trane on his music, what he thought of the Africanity of jazz and other Black music and even the photo on his album cover…all kinds of questions. What I like is the Black consciousness in his music and about him generally. To hear that kind of thoughtfulness and care for our people from a young and creative African – American man is a unique phenomenon.
Kamasi at Jazz Fest Workshop
The next workshop I attended was a music business workshop. The crowd had thinned considerably. Where had all the enthusiastic youth gone? I now have the wisdom to know that a music career is going nowhere without business acumen. I got some great information from the seasoned professionals on that panel.  Then, it was off to the jazz festival.
The Cape Town Convention Center is modern and beautiful. I was there looking for answers to one of my research questions. How did such an authentic jazz tradition grow up in South Africa? A basic answer was all around me. The economy of South Africa could support technical musical specialists like jazz musicians. Any music that takes that much time to master is always supported and propagated by an economy in which it grows. South African and American economies are similar. Actually South African gold backed (or still backs) the value of the British pound. Gold mined by Black people who used to own the land. With that came wealth for primary owners of those mines, and ancillary wealth for everyone working in connection with gold and diamond mines (everyone else except for the miners). Wealthy people pay for entertainment. A less poisonous example is how the Emperors of Mali (the Mansas), and other royals, supported with their gold trade traditional Jalis before the time of colonialism.

Jazz Musicians who performed at Cape Town Jazz Festival's Kippies Stage (from left to right) - Manu Dibango, Moreir Chonguica, Papa Tsepo Tschola, Kamasi Washington and Jonas Gwangwa
Jazz in South Africa was very popular. I decided to settle into one stage that featured performers I was most interested in. Everyone around me was Black South African, although I did meet one brother from LA who sat not too far from me. I felt so connected. So at home. So right. I belonged. That is the feeling that overcomes a Black person who travels to a majority Black country from a majority White one. I do not know how to describe the African jazz sound. Just know that there is one. And it is right. That is the only way I can describe it. Manu Dibango and Moreira Chonguica are from Cameroon and Mozambique, respectively. They put some homegrown rhythms on some jazz standards and their own compositions. These men have a sound. Next was Tsepo Tschola who has written and recording some very impactful freedom songs during the anti-apartheid movement. Some of his songs are gospel songs. For some reason the seats at the Kippies stage were very far away from the where the performers were playing. When Papa Tspepo came out I understood why. The entire floor from the seats to the stage filled with people, all singing along to his songs. The role of the mother and father is very strong in Southern African cultures. I could tell Papa Tspepo was a luminous father figure to all of his faithful fans. (Nelson Mandela’s nick name is Tata, meaning father.) I kept asking one lady sitting behind me for translations to what seemed to be his most popular songs. Next was Kamasi and his band. His band’s sound is very dense with two drummers, bass, guitar and keyboards. He often doubles melodies with the vocalist in his band. He has a big, tenor sax sound with the rough edges of Coltrane and the smooth soul of Dexter Gordon. Everything about his band is intense, from the instrumentation and the song lyrics to his vividly colored outfits, that often include tailored West African grand boubous with converse tennis shoes. The brother is very original. Jonas Gwangwa came on next – they played Black American be-bop licks over the chord changes of  South African jazz standards that all have Zulu and Xhosa names. Wow.
Before I left, I breezed through the craft vendors (they had beautiful things but my bags where already weighted down very heavily), then went back to the apartment to rest. 

A Day in Cape Town...Journey to the Bottom of the African Continent
Cape Town Craft Market
The next day I went to the craft market. This was a treat for a person like me who loves the African aesthetic. One lady had a beautiful orange and blue patterned dress that just happened to be in my size. I definitely got that. I also bought a beautiful painting. I strolled through the streets of Cape Town just taking it all in. I met vendors from Senegal, Cameroon and Mozambique. I also saw the Siyazama Traditional Dancers performing. They had traveled to the city center from one of the townships on the outskirts. (Cape Town has Black South African and 'Colored' townships. - A township is a neighborhood where white South Africans forced Black people to live. Sort of like how it was done with the Warsaw Ghetto or the South Side of Chicago.) But anyway, these children had soul - soul power. The South African dances they were doing a very much like those performed in Botswana.
Boys with the Siyazama Traditional Dancers

Siyazama Traditional Dancers

 Cape Town Craft Market

After I left the craft market, I went to the waterfront mall. I had to get a working cell phone charger because by then, the one I had bought from Victoria Falls was malfunctioning. The waterfront mall has a large Ferris wheel, colorful shops and an outdoor concert was in progress. The mall was sunny, picturesque version of any other mall that you might have visited. The stores, however, are all mostly South African. People were everywhere - mothers pushing baby strollers, obviously in-love couples strolling and holding hands, big families with lots of kids scampering about while fathers bade them to be careful and to stop running. I smiled at all of the activity and located the store that I needed. I bought the charger, an ice cream cone and went to take photos of the ships in the water. If I had the time, I would have taken a boat ride. But I was bound for another even more important stop. Table Mountain.

 Table Mountain - The Bottom of Africa
Going up in a Table Mountain Cable Car.
I have never been to a mountain range before. Hunter Mountain and Ski lodge in New York just doesn’t count. And to go to a mountain range at the most southern tip of Africa was otherworldly. I actually went to the bottom of Africa and could see the southern most tip of the continent. The maps do not accurately reveal that the bottom of Africa is made of mountains. It was majestic. I rode the cable car up the mountain. About sixty people can fit into one, and after it arrived at the top, I stepped out into a dream land. Another wonder of the world. Clouds slowly whirled in and around the flat top of the mountain. I walk around, looking at all of the interesting plants and flowers, making my way to the café for lunch. Table Mountain is a National Park. It has walkways along the edge where I saw spectacular views of the ocean and the other mountains. I also saw Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was held for almost thirty years. It is a little circular island, a dot of land really, in a huge area of deep blue water. Only the most warped and evil minds would think to make it into a prison. Why not a family picnic and beach destination? To isolate someone like that is the upmost cruelty. I do not know how he survived. The Khoi Khoi are the indigenous people of the area around Table Mountain. What a magnificent land they had. I wonder how such topography influenced their culture and their music? I had lunch in the café, inside. Outside it was very, very windy and cold. (If you ever travel there, take a medium to heavy jacket. You will need it.) To tell you the truth, I had a carnival ride experience that has made me nervous of heights. So I never went to the very edge of the roped areas to take ‘selfies’ like most people were doing. I just took it all in from what I judged to be a safe distance. This place where clouds dwell is soft and very serene. I enjoyed for a little while longer, waited in an hour long line to cable back down the mountain and taxied back to my apartment. The next day, I left for Johannesburg, the last leg of my journey.
Maya Cunningham at the top of Table Mountain
Walking Trail on Table Mountain. The top of the mountain has it's own unique ecosystem.
Majestic View from Table Mountain

View from Table Mountain
The Bottom of Africa - View from Table Mountain

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

A Southern African Adventure...Harare, Zimbabwe

Harare, Zimbabwe


To be honest, when my plane left Victoria Falls, I did not know how I was going to get to my Airbnb. I actually did not know where it was in relationship to the airport. I did know that Zimbabwe has a currency problem – a lack of a currency. The Zimbabwean dollar had been abandoned in 2009 and demonitised in 2015. I was told to bring US dollars in small denominations – ones, fives and tens. People in Botswana had been telling me that Zimbabweans were starving and robbed people for food. I feared being exploited by a taxi driver or worse. I was on a budget. The Airbnb owner had already tried to charge almost $50 dollars for airport transport (One way!) It costs $38 dollars from La Guardia airport and JFK to anywhere in New York City. Why would it cost $50 to go less than half hour from the Harare airport! In truth, Harare was not really was not as bad as the rumor mill had promised. People were living their lives just like anywhere else. However, in order to have a successful, cost effective visit, I did need to have some supports in place that were not yet firmed up when my plane took off from Victoria Falls. I worried the entire plane ride with the regular nervousness of a lone traveler going to a new city in which they do not know a soul. My anxiety was augmented by the tales I had heard of Zimbabwe’s instability. This is where the family of God comes in. I had faithfully attended a church in Gaborone called Harvest Christian Church. They are a part of a network of churches called CTMI (Church Team Ministries International) that are all over the world, and well represented in Southern Africa. (The one in the US is in Pensacola, Florida.) One of the members, Sister Noma from Zimbabwe, who has since become like family, called the Harare church to let them know what time I was coming and to try to arrange a ride for me. By the time I landed and switched my phone off of airplane mode, Brother Joe Pinkas had messaged me on whatsapp to let me know that he was on the way to the airport to pick me up. A kind-faced gentlemen arrived in a black sedan with his cute little son, Jared, sound asleep in the back. I thanked him profusely as he loaded my bags in the trunk and the back seat. When I gave him the address of the Airbnb we quickly discovered how far outside of the city it actually was. The write –up had named one location in the city, when the house was actually located in an awkward and distant neighborhood that would have cost a fortune in taxi fares to get to and from inner Harare. Brother Joe got on the phone with the church leader who had asked him to come and get me. After a brief talk with this sister and with his lovely wife Yvonne, they invited me to stay in their much safer and better - located home, in their extra bedroom. This was true Christianity.
Matthew 25:31 – 40 says it like this.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
RE -stored Home Decor and Crafts by Joe and Yvonne Pinkas
Hair Clip from RE -stored Home Decor and Crafts by Joe and Yvonne Pinkas
Hand Painted Earrings from RE - stored Home Decor and Crafts
I was a complete and total stranger to the Pinkas family, but they took me in. They are truly the sheep that the Lord mentioned in this passage. I became a member of the family, and ate breakfast, lunch and dinner with Brother Joe, Sister Yvonne and their cuddly two year old son. They arranged for me to go into the city the next day with Clifford, a young man who works for them, so that I would be safe. Before I left, Brother Joe handed me a bottle of water, an apple and the hat off of his head so I would not be sunburned. That is God’s love. The love of Christ. Agape love. (Writing this reminds me that I need to send them more of a thank you.) The way they cared for me touches my heart. I also got to see another side of Southern African life with the Pinkas family. They live in a beautiful home (rather more like a small homestead) surrounded by plush green grounds on the outskirts of the city, close to the airport. They raise rabbits and have fruit trees. They have three affectionate and excitable 'outside dogs' who rush to greet visitors and who love belly rubs. Yvonne has a marvelous vegetable and fruit garden. They make jam out of the gooseberries growing in plentiful patches on the garden's outer edges. I enjoyed it on my morning toast. There were bushes of both French and English lavender. (Yvonne placed a fresh lavender bunch in my room) They are a family gifted in arts and crafts. They run a thriving business called RE-Stored Home Decor, Craft & Photography offering hand - crafted earrings, picture frames, door knobs, wall hangings and all kinds of beautiful things. They specialize in laser cut wood. All of the things they make engage a fresh, rustic, farmhouse charm, mixed with an Afro-Zimbabwean aesthetic and love for the country. Sister Yvonne does all of the illustrations. They both have Shona and European heritage. Yvonne is an artist, art teacher and craftswoman. Joe is a mechanic and craftsman. With their support, I had a wonderful time seeing Harare.

Harare! Another African city! I cannot begin to describe the feeling of walking through the streets of this bustling and exciting urban center in my Homeland. First of all, it was sunny and beautiful. All of the trees bore the deepest green leaves with the prettiest (and biggest) flowers I have ever seen. My first stop was the National Museum. Once I saw the art work, I knew right away that Zimbabwe was a very different place than Botswana. I kind of knew in the airport. A huge ad with the slogan, ‘the revolution continues’ was painted at least eight feet tall and twenty four feet wide on one of the airport walls. Like South Africa, Zimbabwe fought a war of liberation against European colonialism. Just like with the African – American Civil Rights Movement, such a freedom struggle always leads to a cultural renaissance of Black consciousness that is expressed through art. African – Americans had a Black Arts movement - many of the participants were my art teachers growing up. AfriCobra, Amiri Baraka, Nikki Giovanni, Sonia Sanchez and the whole host of brothers and sisters who embraced a renewed African identity were the Black Arts Movement. Zimbabwe had the same. But their sculpture tradition from antiquity always represented Zimbabwean Black identity with beautiful and striking form. The paintings, prints, magazine covers, traditional artifacts, installations and sculptures that I saw at the National Museum did the same, with added bold-faced political messages that were often anti-colonial. Check out my favorites below.
National Museum of Zimbabwe
National Museum of Zimbabwe
National Museum of Zimbabwe
National Museum of Zimbabwe

Newlands Curio Market
After the National Museum, my guide, plus his friend who had joined the adventure, took me to a huge lot full of Kombis. Jam packed in one of the vans playing lively music, we went to Newlands Curio Market (I expect to dissect the term ‘curio’ later). Imagine almost two blocks full of beautiful crafts and stone sculptures. My mission was to purchase a few others – yes they would be heavy, but worth the weight. I bought three. One is call ‘shared vision,’ one is ‘four sisters’ and one is two faces joined (in a kiss I discovered way after I bought it) - ‘lovers?’ They are beautiful. I bought a backpack to try to hustle them under the radar through my flight home without the fifty pounds of weight in stone becoming an issue. (It worked by the way – a great tip for travelers like me who are greedy for culture and crafts from the homeland. Put the heaviest of your precious items in a well - padded back pack and walk on through!)

The kombi yard also had a market with women selling everything under the sun. I say it once and I say it again. There is no physical difference between African – Americans and Africans on the Continent. Light brown, dark brown – it doesn’t matter. No one, I mean no one, knew that I was not from Zimbabwe. One man even asked my guides why I kept taking pictures at scenes that were for him, and as he expected for me, so commonplace. I was trying to drink as much of the scenery as possible – especially in the Kombi yard and market. Men playing pool in the open air at outdoor tables. Women dressed in gaily colored cloth wrappers selling treats. People eating plates of lunch, complete with greens. Everything. I liked Zimbabwe. But one must be careful. I was warned on more than one occasion by Brother Joe and my guides to not take photos near certain government buildings. Anyone who did so would be detained or shot. Of course I immediately complied.

Interior View of a Kombi
At the Kombi Yard
Men Playing Pool at the Kombi Yard
Market at the Kombi Yard
At the Kombi Yard
At the Kombi Yard

After the market, we returned back to the Kombi yard to get to Chapungo Sculpture Garden. This is when we ran into trouble. We got into one van so full, (and the driver so greedy for fares perhaps?) that even at full capacity, he stopped to pick up three more young men. They actually stood up on the back of the van, standing on the back rim, holding on to the back seats. I was in the front seat and saw how fast the driver was going. He raced over one pothole. Bump. Pothole two. Double bump. Pothole Three. Triple bump, expletive from the driver and then a completely mangled flat tire. We ended up stuck on the side of the road with no taxis in site and the kombis racing by, packed full of riders. Yikes! We walked for a while (admittedly a long while, but I tried not to complain) and finally a man with a driving school car gave us a ride for a small fee. We arrived at the sculpture garden at dusk. Little monkeys were chasing each other all around. The sculptures were large and magnificent. Many Shona sculpture artists have their studios here. I met one of the co-founders, a dynamic sister with beautiful locs, just as they were leaving. I got just a taste and a brief interview with one of the carvers before we fortunately got a taxi back to the Pinkas’ home. I walked into the kitchen just before Yvonne was beginning to think that Clifford had lost me in the city. I enjoyed one last home cooked meal with the family and left for Cape Town the next afternoon. I met some very dynamic people in Harare and I will definitely be back again within the next two years.
Chapungo Sculpture Garden
Chapungo Sculpture Garden
Chapungo Sculpture Garden